Consumer Reports: Alternative treatments for chronic pain

CHICAGO -- One in five Americans suffer from chronic pain. And with all the dangers of opioid use, many are looking for alternative treatments that are both safe and effective. Consumer Reports explores the latest research on everything from supplements to sleep.

Nancy Ortiz has been in pain for years.

"I feel the pain in my low back...very strong. And in the morning, I can't even walk," Ortiz said.

She's been working with a pain management doctor.

"I always tell patients the first thing to do is do the least invasive for your body," said Dr. Felix Roque of the Pain Relief Center.

A recent CDC report shows that of the 50 million Americans in pain, 20 million say it's so severe it limited their ability to work, socialize or take care of themselves and their family. So what can people do?

"There's no magic bullet. Lasting solutions are usually made up of several different kinds of treatment," said Lisa Gill of Consumer Reports.

The American College of Physicians recommends trying non drug measures first. Consider types of exercise that incorporate mindfulness like tai chi and yoga. Acupuncture and massage have also shown to help some with chronic back pain and fibromyalgia.

"Another option might be something called Cognitive behavioral therapy," Gill said. "And that's where you work with a therapist on changing how you approach your pain."

Many turn to supplements, but for most there's no data to show they work. But there is preliminary research to suggest that cannabidiol or CBD, the non-psychoactive compound in the marijuana plant, can reduce inflammation.

Other people try over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, or topical pain relievers in a cream or a patch. Prescription drugs used for pain include antidepressants, muscle relaxants and opioids, which of course come with the risk of addiction and misuse.

But when nothing else works, Dr. Roque says, "I always say the last resort is to go for surgery."

A congressional report says "for every physician certified in pain care, there are more than 28,500 Americans living with chronic pain." If your doctor does recommend surgery, Consumer Reports has got the three questions they say you should always ask first on their website.

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